LAKE LILLIAN -- The first surveyors in southern Kandiyohi County scribbled in their notes that they could not take 100 steps in any direction without getting their feet wet.
Those who enjoy the outdoors for hunting or wildlife observing today have an opportunity to retrace many of those steps in the area south of Big Kandiyohi Lake near Lake Lillian.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with help from state and local conservation groups, acquired an 80-acre tract from a former Kandiyohi County family to expand the complex of wetlands and grasslands in the area for public use. The addition expands the Big Kandi Waterfowl Production Area (761 acres) and the Lake Lillian WPA (312 acres) to provide a complex of 1,183 acres, according to information at the July 26 dedication ceremony hosted at the site. There are also private, Re-Invest in Minnesota conservation lands nearby.
It will now be possible for ambitious pheasant hunters to walk a four-mile stretch from one corner of the Big Kandi WPA complex to the other, according to Scott Glup with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Litchfield Wetland Management District.
Unlike the early day surveyors, autumn pheasant hunters should be able to keep their feet dry, too. Many of the restored wetlands in this complex are seasonal, and provide ideal habitat for waterfowl in the spring while holding cover for upland birds in the fall.
The recent acquisition represents a new focus by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand existing habitat areas when possible in preference to acquiring smaller, scattered tracts of land. Research shows that wildlife does much better when there are larger tracts of habitat, explained Glup.
"We're getting a very, very nice complex here,'' said Glup.
No one probably knows this better than Wayne Coil, who grew up on the site. This was originally the farm site and land that his parents Marvin and Violet Coil had purchased 66 years ago, and farmed for 40 years.
It was one of the best possible places in the world for a young boy to grow up and discover the joys of hunting, trapping and fishing. Coil said that the county ditch that now cuts through the site was a creek when he was young. Northern pike swam up it to spawn in sloughs.
The land was poorly drained for farming needs. Heavy rains could flood out crops and put his father in the doldrums. His father relied on the dairy cows which grazed on the farm's grass pastures. As a consequence, the farm offered lots of habitat for wildlife, and gave the farmer's son lots of opportunities for outdoor pursuits.
Coil said his father worked hard to drain the land for farming, but was also protective of it for wildlife. He eschewed the use of pesticides and commercial fertilizers as much as possible.
Coil, who now lives near Fort Wayne, Ind., was joined by dozens of family members at the dedication. They came from addresses scattered from Florida to Colorado to Indiana, but remember this place as a tribute to Marvin and Violet Coil.
"We are now in the process of restoring his dream,'' said Coil of his father. A monument in memory of the farm couple was unveiled at the ceremony.
The complex now available to all was made possible by help from partners including Pheasants Forever, Minnesota Waterfowl Association, The Crow River Organization of Water, Blomkest Sportsmen's Club and Lake Lillian Sportsmen's Club.
Matt Holland of New London, representing Pheasants Forever, noted that conservationist Aldo Leopold had warned of the disconnection that can occur when people don't live on the farm or experience how it is the land that gives us what we need. "Thanks for providing us a farm,'' said Holland to the Coil family.